NOSTALGIA: Those Were the Days

IN the build-up to next year’s 70th snniversary of D-Day, a small group interested in local history decided to trace the Southwick and Shoreham connections.

Southwick House, where Eisenhower made the momentous decision to order the beginning of Operation Overlord
Southwick House, where Eisenhower made the momentous decision to order the beginning of Operation Overlord

Neil Coppendale and Rob Blackadder were among the group from Sussex, mostly Shoreham and Southwick, recently visited Southwick (Suthick) House, near Portsmouth.

“This was where the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, made the momentous decision to order the beginning of Operation Overlord, the biggest amphibious invasion in history,” said Neil, from Shoreham.

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“Following the most important weather forecast ever made – by chief meteorologist, Group Captain James Stagg – Eisenhower decided in these rooms at approximately 04.15 on June 5, 1944, that the liberation of Western Europe should begin the following day.

“D-Day was just hours away.

“The Normandy landings and the subsequent success of Operation Overlord were to prove a turning point in the war with Nazi Germany.

“Stagg’s forecast was pivotal to Eisenhower’s decision and to the success of D-Day. In the absence of much science he detected a break in the existing poor weather and convinced Eisenhower that the weather would be relatively conducive to crossing the channel – that this was the time.

“Stagg, who was living in Seaford when he died, was honoured in his lifetime, but it is the intention of Midlothian Council to place a plaque on the house where he was born in Dalkeith, Scotland to coincide with the 70th Anniversary next year.

“The Met Office will also be commemorating him with an extended display in their library.”

Neil and Rob took a series of photographs to mark the visit, including the Southwick House library – the actual room where Eisenhower said “OK, let’s go”, the original weather maps from June 6 and Group Captain Stagg’s summary of the weather leading up to and on D-Day.

They also studied carefully the map that shows where Shoreham was placed in relation to the invasion force.

On the morning of June 6, 1944, Portsmouth was the departure point for the biggest invasion the world had ever seen.

Hundreds of thousands of Allied troops crossed the choppy English Channel to land on five Normandy beaches.

The fleet of ships carrying the men and their equipment was so vast, it filled the Solent between Southsea and the Isle of Wight.

And on Portsdown Hill, Southwick House was the headquarters for the top Allied military commander, the future American president General Dwight D Eisenhower.

The top secret plans to invade France and take on Hitler’s might needed the support of people living around Portsmouth, who hosted American and Canadian troops.

The departure for France, delayed by weather for 24 hours, was signalled by Eisenhower’s famous words: “Ok, let’s go”.